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Two Maryland Regions Adjusting to Cyclical Changes

Bank President Tom Barkin visited with community leaders on the Eastern Shore during a Community Conversations visit to the region.
Bank President Tom Barkin visited with community leaders on the Eastern Shore during a Community Conversations visit to the region.

Richmond Fed leaders visited two regions of Maryland this summer to learn more about these communities’ labor markets, local housing needs and business trends.

The Bank’s Community Conversations team, led by President Tom Barkin, spent time in Anne Arundel County in mid-July. In mid-August, the group, which included Regional Executive Andy Bauer and Community Development Manager Peter Dolkart, visited cities in three Maryland counties – Caroline, Talbot and Dorchester. During both tours, they learned that while the local economies are strong, the labor markets are very tight.

“The labor force participation rate is still well below where it was prior to the pandemic,” Bauer said. “All of these communities are still trying to figure out where the workers went.”

During their visit with Chamber of Commerce members in Anne Arundel, a county that is part rural and part urban, the Community Conversations team discovered that along with pondering this question, community leaders are taking steps to turn the tide, including exploring how to expand transportation options.

The county has tapped nearby Towson University to conduct a study on the area’s changing labor force. Additionally, “They are trying to think of ways to get people who are out of the labor force off the sidelines or make it easier for people who are underemployed and living outside the county, such as in Baltimore City, to be able to commute to Anne Arundel for work,” said Bauer, noting that the unemployment rate is 1.8 percent. “Anne Arundel is part of the Baltimore region, but there’s not really transportation from other parts of the region into the county – you need a car.”

Even the casino in the region has found it difficult to find workers, Bauer said, along with business owners in the financial services, leisure and hospitality industries, and at a thriving Army base.

Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin met with Ramon Looby, President & CEO of the Maryland Bankers Association, and the organization"s members during a Community Conversations visit.

Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin met with Ramon Looby, President & CEO of the Maryland Bankers Association, and the organization's members during a Community Conversations visit.

“There are a lot of federal dollars allocated for programs at Fort Meade, which will increase demand for workers,” he said. “It’s difficult to see how they are going to be able to find the workers for all of the activity that is coming down the pike.”

While the jobs seem prevalent, access to housing and affordable childcare isn’t.

With a new set of laws regarding public education reform in the state taking effect recently, including an expansion of pre-Kindergarten, that means fewer young children in child care and less certified providers, which will drive up the costs for those who remain, Bauer noted.

“It’s an unfortunate side effect of providing universal pre-K,” he said.

On the state’s Eastern Shore, the Community Conversations team visited the towns of Denton and Federalsburg in Caroline County, the town of Easton in Talbot County, and the town of Cambridge in Dorchester County. They heard similar concerns about finding willing workers and the need to provide steady childcare for the population that is employed.

Concerns also were expressed by those trying to stay in business.

“When people think of the Maryland Eastern Shore, they tend to think of the waterfront, but Caroline County is landlocked and doesn’t have a tourism lure,” Dolkart said. “This was a good place to have conversations with farmers and others in the agricultural sector, who shared their challenges.”

Farmers continue to contend with supply chain issues stemming from the pandemic, which have kept the cost of supplies, and doing business, historically high.

A hopeful note in two of the county’s small towns the team visited are two large development projects that are underway – a new regional hospital in Easton and a waterfront development project down the road in Cambridge.

Additional good news is the rollout of broadband on the Eastern Shore, Bauer said. “There’s a lot of confidence that they’ll have this area covered in a couple of years.”

Those who want to provide more housing in the area have been challenged by residents who want the region to remain undeveloped, said Dolkart, noting that a significant concern is whether inviting more homeowners will challenge the school system’s capacity and environment preservation.

“This tracks with what we heard in Anne Arundel County about housing development,” Dolkart said. “Leadership in Ann Arundel seem to realize they need to change that approach and they are working on how to resolve their issues with the permit process. The challenges are still being addressed in the Eastern Shore counties.”

The Community Conversations team left the region with a goal to closely follow the growth that will occur as development in both areas expands.

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Jim Strader (804) 697-8956 (804) 332-0207 (mobile)